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Chris Allcock

Chris Allcock on Supporting Safe Families

By Chris Allcock

Programme Director at Safe Families

When Chris Allcock became a volunteer for a local youth group as a teenager, it prompted a passion for supporting and working with young people that has since spanned 20 years in the voluntary and charity sector.

With an intuitive understanding that full support of individuals must incorporate the whole family and other influences in their lives, Chris was drawn to Safe Families, a charity that supports families across the UK. When they were launched in the south of England in 2016, Chris joined as South and South West Programme Director, and now leads a team of 50 staff and 1400 volunteers in his region, which now includes South Wales and Northern Ireland.

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When did you realise that you wanted to work with young people?

I’m a Christian and when I was 19, I was asked at my local church if I would like to help with the youth group. I realised then that I loved youth work, and I got real energy from engaging with young people.

I also had the realisation that for lots of young people, if you can help them to have a trusted adult and positive influence in their life, it can make a huge difference.

What does Safe Families do?

At the heart of Safe Families, we believe that no one should feel alone. As an organisation, we exist to create connection, relationship, and a sense of belonging. Because for lots of people in society, loneliness and isolation are massive issues.

We recruit and train volunteers to support families to help them feel connected. We have family friends to support in whatever way the parents or children need, from meeting the mum for a chat to host homes where volunteers have children overnight to give the family a break. We also have resource friends who offer their skills like putting up a shelf or cooking a meal.

The idea is to build lifelong relationships so that those families feel that there is still someone to help them the next time things are difficult, or there’s always someone to give them words of encouragement in the journey and challenges of being a parent.

If we can support the whole family to be the best they can be for their children, then that gives them the best chance to thrive.

We work with around 50 local authorities, and 5500 volunteers, across the UK. Every day, four families are connected into the community nationwide through Safe Families.

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In a career that must be full of rewarding moments, are there any that have particularly stood out for you?

I have so many, and the most incredible are often from the simplicity of what we do. Like the volunteer who sent a text to a mum when it was cold to remind her to put a coat on, when no one had ever cared enough to text her before. It’s such a simple thing, but there is so much power in people feeling that they’re supported and connected.

A personal one for me was when we as a family hosted some children when their mum was having a baby. One of the kids was seven and when the other children at school called him a foster kid, he responded by saying that he wasn’t in care, he was staying with friends. That was how he saw it from his experience, and that shift in mentality gave him confidence.

Have you learned any lessons on a personal level from the families that you have worked with?

I can think of situations where I’ve learned so much about myself from the families or young people we’ve supported.

They can massively help you to understand something of their world and you can get quite angry that someone doesn’t have access to certain things just because of where they’ve been born, or the family they’ve been born into, or the way that society looks at people. People get given a label and that label sticks with them for life.

One of the big lessons for me is that I believe that every single parent is absolutely trying their best and completely loves their child. We just might need to support them in their parenting because they can’t always work out how to do it better because of their own upbringing or learning. We can become very judgmental of people, but you don’t always know what’s going on for other people and everyone is trying their best with the hand they’ve got.

"If we can support the whole family to be the best they can be for their children, then that gives them the best chance to thrive."

Chris Allcock - Programme Director at Safe Families

How can businesses support Safe Families?

People can volunteer time and become family friends. We also have some businesses that enable their staff time to volunteer. Some businesses also have skills that they are able to use to benefit both families and us as a charity.

Businesses can also be a major help through financial support. Our funding from local authorities only makes up 70% of our funding, so we have to find the other 30%. One of the big things we’re trying to develop is better corporate partnerships and working with businesses within their CSR.

What are the biggest challenges and opportunities for the charitable sector at the moment?

Finance is the biggest challenge, especially in a model like ours where we’re funded by local authorities who are reducing budgets.

Our work is mostly around early intervention and prevention; working with families before struggles and challenges become a crisis resulting in a more extensive and expensive intervention further down the line.

Local authorities often focus their funding on supporting families in crisis mode and can cut out early prevention. But it can save money in the long run – we’ve had some independent evaluations done and Safe Families saves an average of £26,000 for every family that we support over five years, so there’s huge benefit to the public purse.

We’re known as the third sector, but as a rule, charities provide much more cost-effective and impactful work than directly done by local authorities. If local authorities can provide the funding, the charity sector can do more with the money.

I think there are real opportunities too, one of the areas we’re exploring is working more collaboratively with other charities.

What passions do you have outside of work?

I love all sports and particularly surfing; I love to go for a morning surf before work, it’s my space where I can clear my head and relax. I also do a bit of cycling and I enjoy spending time together as a family with my wife and our three kids.

"There is so much power in people feeling that they're supported and connected."

Chris Allcock - Programme Director at Safe Families